Have a look at this amazing talk.
Joscha brilliantly elaborates a fascinating path from Computation to Consciousness. It is argued that humans are likely computational systems capable of encoding and processing information (not necessarily digital), in very specific ways (e.g., neural, quantum computing).
Out of this, mind emerges from the body (not just from the brain): when our body lives and thinks is creating “informational structures” (I would add, breaking down symmetries) at the very basis of our daily behaviors. By the way, this is done by dissipating energy, thus unavoidably increasing the Entropy of Universe, as a whole.
So, it is argued consciousness comes from the correlation, integration of such “informational structures” or encoded information. That’s, in my opinion, the most challenging future of Artificial Intelligence (A.I.): building conscious-like machines by “networking, combining, integrating” sets of functions capable of encoding and processing very specific information, received from the world.
How long will it take ? Impossible to predict it, as any real and impactful disruption, it will be the result of geniality. It might happen earlier than we expect.
In essence, the main difference between non-living and living matter is indeed the way information is coded (bits, qubits, etc), processed (think about unconventional computing), stored and combined. We can also argue, in this direction, that the concept of machine consciousness can be globally extended up to where these encoding and processing functions are allocated and run.
It turns that Mathematics is a sort of language, Computation is about running said language (coded in software), Storage is about saving this encoded information and, eventually, the Network is creating relationships between said sets of functions. Thus consciousness has the highest value in the chain.
Here it comes also the concept of future Internet as an “artificial nervous system”. Well, already today, we are coupling our mind/body with laptops, tablets, smart terminals, sensors/actuators, avatars, agents, etc…which are implementing information retrieval, coding and processing functions. Add also that softwarization is about making the networks very flexible and pervasive, capable of hooking billions of processing functions with ultra-low latency connections.
It’s quite intuitive predicting the future intertwining of Softwarization and A.I. trajectories and, as such, that the coupling of different forms of humans-machines conscious interactions will likely to be the final killer application.